Insatiable global lithium demand leads the way for new mining projects in Western Australia

October 10, 2017

Lithium batteries are not a new concept. They have been around for years, powering our smartphones, tablets and laptops. But, as well as fuelling those small devices we use every day, they are starting to be used to power the next generation car.

In November 2015, 195 nations from around the world, including both large and developing economies, signed the Paris Agreement which aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. For many countries, including Australia, transport represents a massive portion of total emissions and governments spread across the globe are behind the push to meet Electric Vehicle (EV) targets. This drive has led to many countries announcing their intentions to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars before 2040 including, India (2030), Norway (2025), France (2040) and Great Britain (2040).

UN Climate Change Agreement Tweet


In 2016 new registrations of EVs hit a new record, with over 750 thousand sales worldwide; resulting in the global electric car stock surpassing 2 million vehicles. With batteries becoming increasingly more reliable and powerful, technological advances in battery performance and the cost gap between EVs and internal combustion engines (ICEs) narrowing, sales are expected to continue rising. According to the International Energy Agency’s “Global EV Outlook 2017” report, indications are that the electric car stock will continue climbing with an estimated range between 40 million and 70 million by 2025.

Graph from the International Energy Agency on Electric Vehicles


The CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk is seen as one of the leading forces behind the push towards renewable energy. After gaining widespread attention in 2008 with the unveiling of the Roadster, Tesla went on to design the world’s first premium all-electric sedan. But their vision for renewable energy doesn’t just stop with electric vehicles, earlier in the year the company filed with the SEC to officially change its name from Tesla Motors to Tesla, Inc, a move which likely reflects the expanding nature of its business into lithium-ion battery energy storage and solar panels. In July, Elon Musk joined South Australian Premier Jay Wetherill in Adelaide to announce what will be the world’s largest battery installation. After a year of instability for the South Australian electricity market, the news of this 100MW battery which will provide 129 megawatt-hours of energy to South Australian households is hoped to increase the security and reliability of the regions electricity supply.

Tesla Motors Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk charges electric vehicle
Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., demonstrates how to charge the company’s Model S electric sedan, digital image, viewed 19 September 2017, <>.

This push towards the growing use of lithium-ion batteries to power the future is welcome news to the Western Australian mining industry. Supplying more than 40 per cent of the world’s supply of lithium, WA has seen a dramatic increase in investment in this sector of the mining industry. The number of mines in the region producing lithium has jumped from one in January of this year, to four at present, with lithium exports increasing six-fold. Greenbushes mine in the state’s south-west which currently produces around one-third of the world’s supply of lithium is currently undergoing expansion allowing it to double its annual capacity. Tianqi the Chinese company which owns 51 per cent of the Greenbushes mine is looking to invest $1 billion into its WA operations which includes the mine expansion, as well as building a $400 million processing plant to turn lithium concentrate into lithium hydroxide. Like Tianqi, Premier Mark McGowan also understands how important it is to diversify the investment in WA’s lithium deposits. While speaking to TheWeekend West, Mr McGowan said, “WA is in a prime position to capitalise on the growing world market for lithium…We can achieve this not only through mining our huge deposits, but through processing the raw materials locally to create more ongoing jobs”.

Greenbushes mine near Manjimup processing material
Greenbushes mine near Manjimup, digital image, viewed 21 September 2017, <>.

Other elements needed to manufacture lithium-ion batteries, such as nickel and cobalt, are also enticing companies to capitalise on the increasing demand for lithium-ion batteries. Bill Johnston, the WA Mines Minister, officially opened the $456 million Nova nickel-copper mine, located south-east of Kalgoorlie-Boulder last Friday. At the opening Mr Johnston expressed his positive attitude towards what he called the “energy revolution going on around the world,” stating that there are “enormous opportunities for the resources sector in this state”. After the closure of several nickel mines in WA over the last two years, as well as the imminent closure of Ravensthorpe Nickel Mine, the 400 jobs that Nova is expected to create is great news for Western Australia.

BHP’s Nickel West division has also announced plans for a $55 million nickel sulphate project at its Kwinana Nickel Refinery, as it looks to supply lithium-ion battery manufacturers with 100,000tpa of product by April 2019. Additionally, Rox Resources which owns nickel and copper exploration projects is also realising the new opportunities in nickel mining and as a result are looking to restart a feasibility study over its Fisher East nickel project in WA.


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If you need to move heavy or oversized equipment to or from Western Australia, or anywhere else in the world, why not talk to one of our consultants for some free, reliable and no-obligation advice?



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